MINNEAPOLIS — The driver of a tanker truck who drove into a crowd of protestors who were demonstrating against the death of George Floyd on Interstate 35 in Minneapolis May 31 has now been charged with two crimes, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Oct. 22.
Bogdan Vechirko, 35, of Otsego, Minnesota, has been charged with a felony count of threats of violence and a gross misdemeanor count of criminal vehicular operation, according to a statement released by Freeman’s office. A complaint issued against Vechirko by the State of Minnesota includes a summons to a court appearance Nov. 10. If Vechirko fails to appear in court, a warrant will be issued for his arrest, the summons states.
During a scheduled interstate closure May 31, more than 1,000 peaceful protesters were gathered in the westbound lanes of I-35 on the Mississippi River Bridge just east of downtown Minneapolis. A petroleum tanker truck, driven by Vechirko, approached the bridge from the south and headed right for the crowd at a high rate of speed. According to the complaint, Vechirko did not stop until a person in the crowd stumbled and fell forward.
Multiple reports note that after stopping the truck in the middle of the crowd, Vechirko was pulled from the cab of the truck and was beaten until a group of protestors stepped in to protect him until law-enforcement officers arrived. Vechirko was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and then arrested for suspicion of assault, according to Minnesota authorities; he was later released.
A thorough investigation of the incident by Minnesota authorities later revealed that Vechirko planned to “scare” people out of his path, according to the complaint, filed with the 4th Judicial District Court.
“In addition to traffic cameras, officers collected a number of cell phone videos that captured portions of the incident. Protestors can be seen screaming and fleeing the bridge in a panic, in order to avoid being struck by the vehicle. The videos show that the defendant did not stop his vehicle but continued into the area of the crowd at a high rate of speed. Various collected videos show that in addition to the large crowd, there were multiple vehicles stopped on I-35 northbound as the road approached the bridge and that a number of vehicles were driving the wrong direction up an entrance ramp to the freeway — all indicators that something was occurring up ahead,” the complaint reads.
Investigators also spoke to numerous people participating in the protest who said they thought they were going to be struck or killed by the truck. At least one person suffered scrapes and abrasions to her leg as she tried to get out of the truck’s path.
During the investigation, a similar tanker truck was used to reconstruct Vechirko’s drive. The re-enactment showed that Vechirko’s line of sight would have provided him sufficient time to see the crowd and stop his truck well short of them, according to the complaint.
In a post-Miranda statement, Vechirko admitted that he was “kind of in a hurry” and said that when he saw the crowd, he hoped that if he went slow the crowd would let him past. Vechirko said he stopped when he saw someone fall. He also acknowledged that he saw cars pulling off to the right of the highway as he approached, and that he could have stopped the truck sooner.
The felony charge of Threats of Violence-Reckless Disregard Risk carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine. The gross misdemeanor charge of Criminal Vehicular Operation-Bodily Harm-Gross Negligence has a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and/or a $3,000 fine.
Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.